Weaving Indigenous Knowledge Systems with existing chemicals management practices

Contact: Gunilla Öberg

Chemicals management is growing in importance. There are over 100 thousand chemicals currently in use around the globe and the sector is expected to double by 2030 [1, 2]. Human-made chemicals bring significant benefits to society; however, they also create risks to human health and the environment that are challenging to control and evaluate [3]. The broader aim of this project is to open up current regulatory frameworks and explore in what ways Indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) can be effectively woven in to enable the creation of more robust and equitable chemicals management.

Current practices surrounding chemical management rely heavily on Western/dominant science, e.g., as carried out under the Canadian Chemicals Management Plan (CMP), EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), and the USA Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Even though several jurisdictions have started to require Indigenous expertise to be included in environmental decision-making [4, 5], Indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) are not considered in the formalized evaluation of chemical risk under of any of the three plans/Acts just mentioned. This needs urgent remediation, not least because Indigenous Peoples experience disproportionately high exposure to chemicals and potential for adverse health effects.

This project, which is co-led by Susan Chiblow, Anishnabe kwe, assistant professor at the University of Guelph, Michelle Murphy, Métis, professor at UofT and Gunilla Öberg, recent settler from Sweden, professor at UBC, is setting out to find ways to place Indigenous expertise at the front-end of chemical risk evaluation practices throughout the life cycle of chemicals to build a more responsive and robust chemicals management system. Ultimately, our goal is to weave together our own knowledges for the protection of Indigenous Peoples, cultures and knowledge and the inclusion of IKS in environmental leadership and chemical management today.

The project is developed and conducted in close collaboration with partners in Aotearoa-New Zealand (NZ), a former British colony which is the most developed jurisdiction when it comes to weaving Indigenous knowledge into governance structures. Also involved in the project are experts from Health Canada’s Bureau for Existing Substances and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).




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